3 Cannabis Initiatives Considered For the 2010 Ballot
By Greg Aragon
With the state in financial trouble and polls showing a majority of California voters in favor of more lenient cannabis laws, proponents of three new initiatives seeking to legalize marijuana are preparing their campaigns to make the November 2010 ballot.
“I think this flurry of initiatives indicates that there is growing interest in ending the insanity of marijuana prohibition in California, and if we are not at critical mass yet, we are getting closer every day,” says Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
The proposed measures are the Regulate, Control and Tax Act of 2010; the Legalize, Regulate and Tax Marijuana Initiative; and the Common Sense Act of 2010.
The Regulate, Control and Tax Act is sponsored by Oaksterdam University, headquartered in Oakland, and was drafted by university founder and president Richard Lee. Also known as ROT 2010, the initiative seeks to regulate cannabis like alcohol and allow adults 21 and older in California to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis.
The measure would also give local governments the ability to tax and regulate the cultivation, processing, transportation, distribution and sale of cannabis to adults. Sponsors say passage of the law could bring in tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the state each year.
“Our initiative is very careful to try to give the Legislature room to amend and put in state-wide taxation and regulation, and excise taxes on a state-wide level,” says Lee.
Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, says ROT 2010 would be an “improvement over the status quo,” but has drawbacks because it only allows people to own an ounce of cannabis, while still allowing larger amounts to remain illegal.
“It leaves everything up to the counties and cities anyhow, so there would be a lot of places where marijuana would be legal and illegal,” he says. “You could go from one county to another and get arrested, so it doesn’t give a clear idea of establishing a legal state system like we have for tobacco or alcohol.”
Created by three criminal defense attorneys, the Legalize, Regulate and Tax Marijuana Initiative would repeal state laws that make it a crime for people 21 years or older to use, possess, sell, cultivate, or transport marijuana or industrial hemp. It would also expunge state convictions on marijuana charges—a move advocates say would save California millions in costs related to the criminal justice system.
Additionally, the measure would require state and local governments to regulate and tax the commercial production and sale of marijuana. Drafters estimate that it would bring in $1.4 billion in annual revenue for California.
“What is specifically important about this initiative is consumer protection,” says Joe Rogoway, one of the proposal’s drafters. “We have mandated labeling requirements, so consumers will know exactly where their cannabis came from and what’s in it, which I think consumers are entitled to.”
Additionally, Rogoway says, the initiative puts no arbitrary limits on how much cannabis someone can possess or cultivate in the same way that there are no limits on alcohol.
“I think part of the mistake that cannabis reformers often make is creating these arbitrary limits, and when someone exceeds some arbitrary number they then become subject to criminal liability,” he says. “We wanted to make sure we wouldn’t have to defend cannabis-related charges anymore. We would make sure people wouldn’t be put in that position to risk their freedom.”
The Common Sense Act of 2010 was developed by a nonprofit group called Common Sense California. The law would repeal marijuana prohibition in California and give the Legislature a year to pass laws to regulate and tax marijuana. It also calls for Congress to remove cannabis from the Federal Schedule of Controlled Substances.
Efforts to reach Common Sense California for this article were unsuccessful.
Gieringer says the trouble with both the Legalize, Regulate and Tax Marijuana Initiative and the Common Sense Act is that neither would set an excise tax on marijuana to raise money for the state. “I really think it’s important to offer the voters tax money if you are going to appeal to them,” he says.
As activists for the three initiatives battle to get the required 433,971 valid signatures to qualify for the November 2010 ballot, supporters say they’re confident, but admit they face a daunting task in overcoming both anti-legalization rhetoric and general voter uncertainty.
“Government propaganda and money against us will be a major challenge,” says Lee, who says he’s confident his campaign will have roughly 700,000 signatures by February. He says organizations like the DEA feel it’s their job to fight legalization and get involved in politics. “They should be involved in enforcing the law, not making the law,” he says.
Mirken says persuading voters that legalization is not as scary as the opposition tries to make it sound will be a hurdle.
“I think whatever year a marijuana initiative gets on the ballot, you can guarantee that we are going to face a big, ugly, scary, well-financed opposition campaign spearheaded by law enforcement groups and high-profile politicians,” he says. “They are going to try to frighten the daylights out of people and we have to be ready to combat that.”
For Gieringer, it doesn’t matter if any of the initiatives make it to the ballot or ultimately pass. To him, it all boils down to federal law.
“Legalizing marijuana outright is against federal law and as long as it’s against federal law, it’s going to be very hard for the state to regulate it at all,” he says. “It’s going to take change at the federal level.”
For more information on the three initiatives, visit taxcannabis2010.org, Californiacannabisinitiative.org or email email@example.com.